ArticlesNo. 85, Spring 2008

Debussy as Storyteller: Narrative Expansion in the Trois Chansons de Bilitis


Every song cycle presents its audience with a narrative. Such an idea is hardly new; indeed the idea of an unfolding plot or unifying concept (textual or musical) is central to the concept of the song cycle as opposed to a collection of songs, at least after the mid-nineteenth century. A great deal of musicological literature devoted to song cycles is aimed at demonstrating that they are cohesive wholes, often connected both musically by means of key relationships, motivic recall, and similar techniques , and textually, by means of the creation of an overarching plot or concept. One type of narrative results from a poetic unit being set to music in its complete state, without alteration. In an effort to demonstrate the internally cohesive qualities of these song cycles, typical analyses assume that the narrative is contained entirely with the musical cycle itself- that is, that it makes no external references.